I’ve been playing video games for as long as I can remember. It started one fateful evening when my family went out to dinner and there was this new machine at the restaurant, and it wasn’t a pinball machine. It had two long blocks and the goal was to knock the smaller block past the other player’s larger block. Yes, it was 1972 and the game was PONG, I was mesmerized at the time like a teenager watching Charlie’s Angels, and soon the video game industry was born.
I remember playing a pinball machine my grandfather had in his basement, but even then it was an antique. You stuck a penny in and you got to play, but all the ball really did was hit some metal strips and then went into one of the various holes with no fanfare whatsoever. I don’t even think electricity was involved. So to play PONG was a revelation.
And thus with the birth of the video game industry my pixual awakening occurred, and I knew right then I would lose many, many hours of my life staring at a screen in someone’s basement for the next 30 some years. Voluntarily. Tanks made of blocks, dragons that looked like ducks, and a game where all you did was fish was all it took to amuse us back then. Seriously, Fishing Derby?! I don’t think that game is on Activision’s remake slate anytime soon.
OK, now that I’m in LA, I’m all growed up and have a family of my own. I still play video games. Due to little things like earthquakes there are no basements here so it kind of ruins the nostalgia a little bit, but it’s still just as shut-in-y.
I remember hooking up our Atari 2600 to a 19 inch television. It was basic, blurry, and we loved it. Except for that E.T. game. Even back then we knew that was a piece of crap. But our favorites were Missile Command, Superman, Adventure, and Megamania. Of course, Combat, the game that came with the system, gave us a bunch of hours and a few headaches as well.
“Why don’t you guys go outside?” was all we would hear from upstairs. OK, we did go outside a lot, but half the time was indeed spent sequestered like an indecisive jury going over forensic evidence. But we were trying to get to the next level on Pac Man, which looked nothing like the arcade game.
Now, like a lot of guys, I never stopped playing video games. I never “took a break.” From the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo machine with the stupid robot to the Sega Genesis to the X-Box 360, video games have matured with us, and we have matured with them. Well, sort of. We’re making more money now, at least. We have to as the new systems and games are a lot more expensive.
I never got into the online play as much, with the shooters and World of Warcraft, mainly because I think I might like it a little bit TOO much. But I like the social experience. That piece of nostalgia can still ring true. I would go to Halo parties with four X-Boxes linked together and eight dudes in one room, eight in another. It’s so cool to frag someone and then hear a very loud expletive immediately coming from the neighboring room.
The gaming industry has matured to the point where, like movies and television, there is something for everyone. But that means there is also more stuff you have to be aware of and keep your children from. But, hey, this time it’s easy, right? We’re in Best Buy or GameStop and usually know more than the clerks anyway. We know what’s appropriate and what’s not. We’re DUDES. We can tell The Covenant from Spyro. Mario from Sam Fisher. Banjo from Kazooie. It’s our wheelhouse.
Now my four year old daughter and I are playing Kingdom Hearts together. Disney and Final Fantasy, how can you go wrong? OK, she’s not really playing as much as telling me what to do. “Go see Winnie the Pooh! Talk to the Princesses! Read what they are saying!”
Now with two young children I have a lot less time to play, but at the end of a grueling day, an hour with a wireless controller definitely relaxes me. Unless I’m stuck on a boss fight in God of War; then it’s not so relaxing.
Video games have come a long way. And they have caught up and in some ways surpassed other entertainment mediums. So as parents, this means we have one more thing to watch out for. But like I said, it’s something we’re already intimately familiar with. So FINALLY, something that’s easy for us. I try to hide my “adult” games and don’t even let my daughter see the covers so as to not even arouse her curiosity. So it’s Kingdom Hearts at 7:00pm, Bedtime at 8:00 pm and then Resident Evil at 9:00pm. And then usually bed by 9:45. Because I’m an adult. I can go to bed whenever… the kids let me.
Image credit: Mark Ramsay
Chris Mancini is a Dad, comedian, author, and award-winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He has performed in comedy clubs across the country and has spoken at various film festivals and conventions including Comic-Con in San Diego. He is also a bit tired. Learn more about Chris at